Tasked with building a first-team roster for the 2021 season, Charlotte’s Major League Soccer Team has assembled an elite talent identification team
by Ryan Bailey
CHARLOTTE — The soccer world may find itself in an unprecedented moment of inactivity, but Charlotte MLS’s progress in building its inaugural first-team roster is in full flight.
“We have been working hard on building the first-team roster since January, via an international scouting network,” says Scouting Director Thomas Schaling.
The COVID-19 pandemic has limited the potential for scouts to put boots on the ground, but Charlotte MLS has maximized the opportunity to seek talent via data analysis and video technology.
“The lockdown has been challenging for all of us, but we have not been sitting on our hands,” says Special Advisor Steve Walsh, the man who scouted the players behind Leicester City’s incredible Premier League title win in 2016. “It has given the recruitment team the time and opportunity to fully research all potential targets.
“We are using the latest technology in soccer recruitment, and we have the tools to watch practically every player on the planet in their most recent games. There has been no let-up in our pursuit of a team the fans can be proud of.”
Schaling and Walsh have been working closely with Sporting Director Zoran Krneta and Technical Director Marc Nicholls to put the roster together. But over the past few months, the scouting department has been bolstered by the addition of three internationally renowned talent identification experts: Lisandro Isei, Davor Brasanac and Vincent van Raam.
“We have worked hard to find the talent that will help us find talent,” says Schaling. “The scouting department and the academy are two of the vital lifelines of any club. Lisandro, Vincent and Davor are three of the first people we wanted for our scouting department, which means a substantial part of that team has now been formed.
“Even when there are no games being played, they have been very successful in finding key targets and keeping within our timeline.”
Here’s a little more about the scouts who are helping shape the Charlotte MLS roster:
Based in the Netherlands, Isei has forged an impressive reputation as a psychologist for professional players in the Eredivisie, the Belgian top flight, and the English Championship. But this aspect of his career was preceded by a long-held affinity for talent identification.
“I started scouting at a very young age,” says Isei. “I was around 12 when I started paying close attention to the differences between average players, good players, very good players and world-beaters. I remember writing reports during classes.
“Can you imagine the look on the biology teacher’s face when she saw a lineup of U23 players instead of a graphical representation of the pollination of plants?”
Isei has scouted for a variety of clubs and football associations across Europe, most recently in Holland with Willem II and FC Dordrecht. But his search for talent is by no means confined to Dutch territories.
“We are not bound by borders,” says Isei. “We want to find great players for Charlotte MLS. So we look everywhere soccer is being played.”
In his quest to assess a player’s current quality and suitability for Charlotte MLS, Isei is relying on technology.
“Except for not being able to see live matches, my work hasn’t changed much,” he says. “The emphasis just shifted more towards watching video and using datasets and analyses.
“Before coronavirus, our team communicated multiple times a day via a Whatsapp group, and we do so even more so now. Our weekly team meetings are conducted via video, too. It’s great that we’re being creative in the current situation and that it doesn’t affect the quality of our work. We make every minute count.”
Based in Belgrade, Brasanac moved into scouting following a playing career in his native Serbia.
“I come from a football family,” says Brasanac, who has worked closely in developing the career of brother, Darko. The midfielder has played in La Liga since 2016, and moved from Real Betis to Osasuna last summer, via loan spells in Madrid and the Basque country.
“My main market is Eastern Europe, especially for live scouting, but I also work closely with the rest of the team on video scouting,” says Brasanac. “We watch players from all over the world.”
Brasanac is a strong advocate for the video and data analyses that forms the backbone of Charlotte MLS’s scouting mission.
“It’s a huge part of our job, and we are working from a large and meticulously compiled database,” says Brasanac. “Of course, the situation has changed for live scouting, but we would be constantly using video scouting anyway. It really helps us reach decisions when we meet together to discuss targets as a team.”
Despite the challenges of the current environment, Brasanac is convinced Charlotte MLS has built the foundations of success, thanks to its elite personnel.
“I have worked with Zoran for many years, and he has put together a very professional and talented team for Charlotte MLS,” says Brasanac. “And Thomas is incredibly supportive of his scouting team. Building a roster from scratch is very challenging, but he helps make everything easier.”
Vincent van Raam
“There are good players playing all over the world and it’s our task to find them.”
That’s a simple edict and one that Van Raam is highly equipped to fulfill. After earning his first scouting job with Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar, the Dutchman worked with one of the leading player and scouting agencies in the Netherlands, where he assisted the scouting process for prestigious clubs from all over the world.
“I have also previously worked for a data company that worked closely with multiple teams within MLS, as well as Barcelona, Valencia and Villarreal,” adds Van Raam.
His specialty lies in data analysis and video scouting, which suits both the current climate and Charlotte MLS’s intent to pursue talent on a global basis.
“Video scouting allows us to watch an enormous amount of players from all over the world,” says Van Raam. “Data can highlight potential unknown players who might be interesting to us, and it can also allow us to understand certain players we have already seen in a better and more complete way.”
Although the scouting team is currently relying on video, Van Raam notes that they have already watched potential targets in live scenarios.
“Our team has been working very hard since day one, which indeed also includes live scouting. So yes, we as a team have seen quite a few players already in different parts of the world,” he says.
“We obviously have to work remotely during these difficult times, but it hasn’t hindered our progress at all. I’d even say that we can watch even more players right now since there are no matches to attend in person.”
The search for first-team players may be broad in its geographical scope, but there is also an awareness of the importance of local talent.
“We don’t favor a country or region over others,” says Van Raam. “But players who are playing closer to our home in Charlotte are also important to us.
“We won’t leave a stone unturned in any given part of the world. We will make sure of that!”